Positive Discipline Potty Training

6 years ago

When it comes to positive discipline, advice on potty training, or toilet training, is painfully simple. Wait for your child to exhibit the signs, don’t push, don’t reward, and don’t praise.

In fact, when it comes to potty training, we parents and caregivers can be our own biggest obstacle, trying to push, reward, praise and beg our way out of paying for (or cleaning) diapers.

However, in the end, the child is ultimately in total and complete control. Accepting this fact, remaining calm and relaxed, and following his or her lead will offer the least amount of power struggles.


Physical readiness: Long periods between diaper changes, dry diaper after nap or overnight, stops what he’s doing and gets a serious look when relieving himself in the diaper all indicate a level of awareness. Connections between physical sensations and the need to use the toilet are being made

Emotional readiness: Fear of the toilet, fear of flushing, fear of falling in, desire to decide on her own time, being freaked out by the act of using the potty, unwillingness to let go of babyhood or the convenience of diapers all play a part in a child being emotionally unready to move to the potty. If you witness some of this behavior, it’s not time to try potty training.

What not to do

Push it: The minute we step in and start pushing the issue, we’re running the risk of entering a power struggle. Ultimately, the child is in control of bodily functions. Guess who will win? Instead, remain calm and relaxed. Like a wild animal, kids can detect our stress and they’ll push back. The more you want them to do it, the more the chances are you’ll have resistance.

Reward: Avoid rewards like stickers on a chart or candy. Don’t be tempted by the fact that they work. They do. But the issue will become more about getting the reward than learning socially appropriate behavior.

Punish: Remember, accidents will happen, but if you initiate any kind of punishment, you can set things back considerably. Kids sometimes regress. Consider this, if you experience accidents, consider kindly but firmly taking them to the bathroom and asking them if they would like to change alone or with you there. Help only if they physically need it. Have them assist in cleaning up. They’ll decide on their own that using the potty is much easier than all this hassle.

Use questions that can be answered “no”: If you ask if she wants to use the potty, she’s more likely to say ‘no’ regardless. Instead use phrases like, “It’s time to use the potty,” when you see signs she needs to go, or “We’re leaving in five minutes. Let’s use the potty,” every time you’re leaving the house to get your child in the habit of going before outings.

What to do

Use lots and lots of patience: It isn’t going to happen overnight, at least not the first time you try. We all know or have heard of kids close to the age of our own that were fully potty trained early. It isn’t a reflection of the mother or even a negative reflection of you. Most often it is a reflection of the child’s willingness. Give it a shot, and if it doesn’t work, drop it and pick it up again in a few months. My daughter finally decided, after countless attempts for a year that she was ready at 3 years and 8 months, a full year after all of her friends.

Give it a try: If you’ve seen the physical and emotional signs, give it a shot. Try a little potty or a special potty seat for the toilet if your child can’t comfortably sit on it. Just have him sit on it for a bit. Read books, sing songs, run a little water. If it works, you’re on your way. If after a few days he’s fighting you, drop it.

Summer streeker: If you have warm months coming up as you’re attempting potty training, try the old run around without pants and diaper routine. Outside is best because of the lack of cleanup. I tried this last August. My daughter went several times outside on the little potty (because I put it out there) then full out refused to have anything to do with it for nine more months. She wasn’t physically ready. But I have seen it work well for others.

Parting thoughts

More than anything just pay attention to your child’s signs, feelings and emotions. There is no right time. Experts suggest seeing a doctor if you’re not seeing signs or having even periodic success in developing an interest in potty training by 3 to rule out physical issues. Beyond that, just be patient.

Sweetness’s story

About two months before her brother was born, I bought a little potty for Sweetness (she was 18 months) because her two friends we shared a nanny with were already using the potty. She went the first time she sat on it. I thought, “We’ve got this in the bag!”

Then nothing. She wouldn't even sit on the potty.

As it got closer to the big day her brother would arrive, I let it go because the big change of a baby brother would not help any training.

Any suggestion that it was time to sit on the potty was met with screaming and tantrums the next handful of times I suggested it for a year.

When she was just about 3, we tried again for a 3-day, no diapers except at night, run around outside in nothing but a sundress trial. It was a complete failure. While she did go a few times in the potty outside, that was it. She tried it. She hated it, she didn’t want anything to do with it. (If you like to see others suffer, you can read the play by play staring here.)

Then, about three months ago, when she entered size six diapers from Costco (the largest of the cheap diapers) I started talking about how when these diapers ran out, we were done. It was a simple statement. No threats. No discussion. Just something for her to think about.

Last week she announced she was a big girl. I agreed and told her she was done with diapers. I pulled out the undies we picked out last summer and asked which one she wanted to wear.

There was some protest, a lame attempt at tears, but the struggle wasn’t there as it had been before. She chose her undies, chose whether she wanted to use the little potty or the toilet, and herself announced that when she’s fully potty trained she wants to go to the Space Needle.

She had four accidents that first day. But in the 10 days after that, she had a total of four accidents (I don't count the time her dad was too engrossed in the game to notice her feeling uncomfortable and suggest it was time to go to the potty). I kept an eye on her, suggesting it was time to use the potty (which helped her) and as the days went by she decided herself and announced she had to go. In fact, she went from using the little potty to using the toilet with her small toilet seat, to using any and all toilet seats in 10 days.

At last, she'd finally decided she was ready, and she'd worn me down where I didn't have my hopes too high. It was officially two years and two months from the time she first sat on a potty.

So at the end of the 10 days, this is what I did for her:

I can’t really look at it as a reward, because we all give ourselves a little something when we achieve a goal. She set this one herself. She earned it and, while it did cost more than another box of diapers, I didn’t blink at paying for this.

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